Moffat Road listed as ‘endangered’
Ryan Summerlin May 3, 2012
A significant piece of Grand County history has been singled out in a 2012 Colorado’s Most Endangered Places list.
Among 30 historic sites throughout Colorado nominated for listing, the Moffat Road, remnants of a bygone rail line that changed Grand County forever, is among six diverse Colorado sites considered endangered due to demolition, neglect, natural forces, land-value fluctuation, and unsympathetic owners, according to Colorado Preservation Inc.
It’s the first site in Grand County nominated for this designation since Colorado Preservation began releasing such lists in 1998, according to Rachel Parris, endangered places program coordinator at Colorado Preservation.
For this “great piece of transportation history in Colorado,” Parris said, the listing will serve to bring awareness to the Moffat Road site and will help the U.S. Forest Service in its efforts to gain funding to preserve it. The harsh alpine environment at higher than 11,600 feet in elevation has degraded historic structures remaining there.
The U.S. Forest Service submitted nomination of the site. “We have thousands and thousands of sites we would like to preserve, but don’t have the resources to maintain them once they are,” said Reid Armstrong, spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service Sulphur Ranger District, Granby. The Endangered title, she said, helps to bring focus to Corona (Rollins) Pass preservation and helps the federal agency gain grants and partnerships in the site’s favor.
“Our interest is in preserving the archeological site, the trestles themselves,” Armstrong said.
Pipeline to the world
What originated as the Old Ute Trail negotiating the Continental Divide eventually became a toll road, the accomplishment of John Quincy Adams Rollins in 1873. The road became a passageway for settlers to the American West, benefiting the enclaves of Fraser, Tabernash, Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs in Middle Park.
The eventual construction of a rail line that generally followed Rollins’ road marked the time when “the world truly opened up to Grand County,” said Tim Nicklas, director of museums for the Grand County Historical Association.
A mining and railroad baron out of Denver, David Moffat endeavored to build a railroad over the Divide to connect Denver to western markets. A permanent rail line bored through a large tunnel was his ultimate goal, but because financing was not yet available, by 1904 Moffat had succeeded in building a temporary line over the Divide, “the highest standard railroad ever built in the United States,” according to Colorado Preservation Inc. “This undertaking was the most daring and arduous railroad building task ever attempted in the United States.”
Moffat died before seeing a permanent transcontinental railroad bed constructed through the Moffat Tunnel near Winter Park in 1928. It was then the “Hill Route” Moffat Road was abandoned. The tracks were removed in 1935, and the trestles that remain have since been a sight-seeing attraction.
“The Moffat Road coming over Rollins Pass changed the whole economy of Grand County,” Nicklas said. “Before that time, the only way in and out of Grand County was by horse, horse-drawn wagon, riding on a horse, or by walking or skiing.”
The lumber industry and ranching industries were far more difficult without rail transportation.
And most significantly, telegraph and telephone lines reached Grand County when the Moffat Road arrived. “Before that time, we didn’t have communication except by mail, which came by horse or by ski,” Nicklas said.
By comparison, Georgetown had its telephone service by 1878 but Grand County didn’t have telephone service until 1903.
“Imagine the isolation we had before the train,” Nicklas said. “I’m thrilled this type of attention is being drawn to preserving those trestles. It’s such an important part of our heritage.”
According to Armstrong, after the Hill Route had been open for six years, the population of Grand County doubled its population size of 741 residents. And 100 years ago this past winter, hundreds of people traveled over Hill Route to celebrate Winter Carnival in Hot Sulphur Springs, deemed the birth of winter ski tourism in Grand County.
“We definitely appreciate Colorado Preservation’s work to help preserve important historic sites like this in Colorado,” Armstrong said, “And we hope to work with them on future endeavors.”
Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603